Darkhan and a dark apartment

So this past weekend marked our first adventure with the bus system in Mongolia. Not the city buses – the real deal, let’s get out of UB buses. Saturday morning we left the comfort of home, our UB apartment, and headed to the bus station (the Dragon Center, as they call it). It was disheveled, disorganized, and full of hustle and bustle. For about five minutes we weren’t sure where the ticket office was, and then we found it hidden behind some buses (logically). Inside we went, and we were greeted with a kind of hoard of Mongolians gathered around the tickets windows fighting to pass their money through to get a ticket. One look at that, I took the backpack from Chris and sent him off with our IDs and some cash to buy us tickets. Good luck, my man.

He joined the mass, fought his way little by little to almost the front of the line, and then we both watched as the Darkhan sign was moved from his ticket window to a neighboring window. Along with the sign went about half of the hoard, so Chris was pushed along with them, like it or not. Being a friendly guy, however, he soon befriended an English speaking Mongolian girl, so she took his money and our IDs and in no time produced tickets for us.

Off we went, our first bus ride to a new city. Once we were out of UB, it was beautiful…and vast…and pretty darn empty.

The ride took three hours with one stop at the mid-way point:

And then we were there, in Darkhan! Merryn, our VSO friend, picked us up at the bus station and whisked us away to her apartment. The walk was great…short and not too cold…but the most shocking thing was the lack of cars, car horns, people, everything. Darkhan is one of the bigger cities in Mongolia, and it is QUIET! It was so pleasant. At this point we have grown so accustomed to constant noise, that to be in a place – a city! – that was quiet was a real treat.

After warming up with a nice glass of wine, we headed back out into the much colder night to grab some dinner and see a Mongolian lounge singer. Dinner was great. The lounge singer? He wore a khaki suit with a mint green shirt and a pink striped tie under it…he had lots of grease in his hair…and he was a Mongolian lounge singer. That about sums him up.

Anyways, Sunday morning we enjoyed a leisurely morning of BBC and chatter. Then off on our big adventure, to walk about Darkhan. Unfortunately for us, the temperature had dropped A LOT since the day before, so we got our first real dose of just how damn cold this country will be…soon…very soon. We lasted for a while on our walk before I declared myself to be frozen through and through, so we retreated to the market for some lunch supplies, and then hastily made our way back to Merryn’s for a cup of 3 in 1 coffee (all powder, 55% sugar, 30% non-dairy creamer, 15% instant coffee – the Mongolians love it), followed quickly thereafter with a glass of wine.

We did manage a few photos on our walk before my hands turned into icicles:

That one is of Mongolia’s only suspension bridge. Evidently at nighttime it’s all lit up pretty – we didn’t see it, we were inside by then. And here’s one of Old Darkhan, then New Darkhan (what the two sides of town are called – I imagine you can deduce why):

And a couple of us being horrid. I’m riding a concrete panda bear because my coat looked like a panda and I had a water bottle much like the panda’s big red mug, and Chris is standing next to a statue of a little boy wearing herder’s boots and nothing else. Oh and the little boy (not Chris) is peeing (when it’s not winter and the water is shut off). Darkhan artists have interesting tastes:

Sunday night we hopped on a bus home, and four hours later were snug as bugs in our cozy UB apartment. It was a great trip, wonderful to see Merryn, and so nice to get out of the noise and pollution of UB for a night. Next time we go, we plan to take the train…it takes most of the day but it must be just beautiful.

So this week is Chris’s school vacation, and I have been left to my own devices since Tuesday morning at 7 AM when he headed off to Tsetserleg, a town West of UB that everyone says is just beautiful…in summertime. Ha! It sounds like he and his friend are enjoying themselves…we’ll see what he has to say when he gets home on Saturday.

As for me, well…the power cut off sometime on Tuesday. Evidently the landlord “forgot” to pay the bill, so there I sat, in the dark. Damnit. To my delight, it came back on Wednesday afternoon after much harping to pay the bill. Then later Wednesday afternoon the door handle of our outside steel door (we have two doors) came off in my hand. Oops. I could get it back on – which is important because you lock the door by pulling the handle up – but something wasn’t right. After another call to the landlord, I was told someone would fix it this morning, Thursday morning. So yeah…I was happy…electricity was on and the door would be fixed and I went to bed thinking about how nice a cup of coffee would be in the morning…and then I woke up…flipped the light switch…DAMNIT DAMNIT DAMNIT. No electricity. This time wasn’t as bad though because when I opened my door, the lights were off in the hall too, so it meant it was a building power cut, not a my apartment only power cut. Anyways, the lights came back on around 10 AM, but not before I made that damn cup of coffee I wanted so badly:

Yep…that’s our camp stove over there in the left corner. Any port in a storm.

Anyways, the door fixer arrived mid-morning and went to work on fixing the problem. He installed a whole new locking mechanism pretty quickly, and things appeared to be on the mend…until he came into the apartment, closed the door, locked it from the inside, and there we stood…stuck inside. Oops. Lots of fiddling, pulling, pushing, I imagine curse words, and finally a request to use my phone. He called someone, that someone appeared on the outside of the door, more pulling, more pushing…and we were free! After about five more minutes of work, the door was functional again (even to the point that my old key still works on it), and off they went. I was a bit nervous that I would surely get locked out the first time I tried to get back in, but nope, it worked like a dream.

And that’s that…my first week alone in Mongolia. Oh no, that’s not that. My interpreter quit! Again! Well…the first one was fired; he didn’t quit. But this one quit. She has a baby and it’s too much time away from the baby, so now here I am again…interpreterless. It should only last until mid-December when I inherit my co-worker’s interpreter…hopefully. In the meantime I just chuckle and carry on creating things in English that will someday need to be translated to Mongolian. Who knows when that someday will really be…

Alas, so it goes. Here’s one happy thing from my time alone…without power in the morning, I have really noticed the sunrises. Yesterday was beautiful!

Oh and one sad thing: I had stored our first Mongolian icicle from our window outside in our freezer (you know, memories…). Well, thanks to too many hours without electricity, our poor icicle melted away into nothing. I’m somewhat embarrassed to admit that I think that was the worst realization of the power outages…

So it goes, something tells me I won’t have to wait too long to find another…

One thought on “Darkhan and a dark apartment

  1. U.B.

    From the UB Post:
    New Cabin Options Offered on Naadam’s Golden Eagle Express

    Written by Ch.Sumiyabazar
    Tuesday, December 08, 2009.

    The Russian MIR Corporation has announced, starting in 2010, the availability of a more economical cabin option on the Golden Eagle Trans-Siberian Express luxury train, which runs from Mongolia, either starting or ending in Moscow, called “New Heritage”.

    The journey glides over the famous old Trans-Siberian Railroad tracks and then dips down to Mongolia’s capital city, Ulaanbaatar for the Naadam Festival. The 13 day journey departs from Moscow in the Eastbound direction on July 1, 2010 and departs from Ulaanbaatar in the Westbound direction on July 10, 2010. Both directions feature the New Heritage cabins, which will start from US$7,995 per person.

    The annual Naadam Festival is Mongolia’s national holiday, showcasing the country’s best in wrestling, horse racing and archery as well as uniquely Mongolian sports such as “ankle-bone shooting.” It originated many centuries ago, but now this celebration of courage, strength, dexterity and marksmanship will commemorate on July 11, the anniversary of Mongolia’s independence from China.

    This Mongolia train journey begins with a tour from Russia, starting in Moscow and heading east to Siberia’s great Lake Baikal on the Trans-Siberian Railroad. Along the way, passengers can disembark in some of Russia’s most fascinating cities to sample daily life in the biggest country on earth. On arrival in Ulaanbaatar, the luxury train will disembark all of its passengers, who will then check into a centrally located hotel and attend the Naadam Festival Opening Ceremony. Then the merry-making continues for two more days of the Naadam Festival competitions and celebrations.

    Merry-making and ankle-bone shooting?

    I want pictures.


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